1. We’ll begin this weekend’s round-up with a truly lovely story of grace. Reported by Daniel Burke at CNN, it’s about a hospital housekeeper, Rosaura Quinteros, whose job was to mop floors, pull trash, and clean surfaces in the rooms of COVID-19 patients. In one particular room, the patient’s last rites had been administered; via FaceTime, he had already said good-bye to his family.

Then Quinteros “told him his life was in good hands, both the doctors’ and God’s.” Their correspondence, he says now, saved him.

At first, Quinteros and Denney [the patient] just talked about the weather. Small talk to get his mind off the suffering.

Denney, who didn’t want to be sedated or intubated, said he was in unspeakable pain, focusing on surviving five minutes at a time.

“It was really nice to talk about something other than my illness,” he said. “I was sick and tired of hearing about what bad shape I was in.”

English is not Quinteros’ first language, though she says that didn’t matter.

“When a patient is treated with compassion and love,” she said, “language is not a barrier.” […]

Before she enters a Covid-19 patient’s room, Quinteros puts on a mask as well as a protective gown, gloves and eyewear.

Her Catholic faith, she said, provides another kind of protection.

“I rely on the training I received at the hospital and put my faith in God. I put everything in God’s hands.” […]

Though hospital housekeepers are often measured by standards of productivity — how many rooms they clean — hospital executives are beginning to realize their larger importance.

Prose, the Duke doctor, said custodians are often ignored by doctors and other high-level hospital staff. But after studying their role and making a short documentary about them, he realized how crucial they are.

“We quickly realized that they often interact with patients more than physicians do,” Prose has said, “and they do so with great compassion.”

I’ve linked to the aforementioned documentary—a series of interviews—below. At 14 minutes, it’s well worth watching. Without any formal qualifications, hospital housekeepers work remarkably as ministers, approaching patients from a position of humility. One quote stands out to me: “We’re only there to clean and sanitize your environment, so oftentimes people feel very comfortable to share even some of their most inner secrets and thoughts and feelings with us, because the walls are down.”

In my own life, I could stand to take a cue from Hilda, who says at minute-13:00: “You have to take those few minutes to listen. You don’t have to say much, and so what? Let them do the talking.”

2. In a powerful reflection at Christianity Today, Esau McCaulley writes, “I Have Only One Hope for Racial Justice: A God Who Conquered Death.” With despondency, McCaulley surveys the situation on the ground. He also reminds us the ultimate goal is “not to secure allies; it is to secure freedom.” Contrary to the opinions of many, in McCaulley’s view, belief in the Resurrection doesn’t reinforce the status quo but upends it:

We need a hope big enough to overcome death itself. The Resurrection, then, is not a mere sign. It is a hermeneutical key that unlocks the mystery of God’s purposes. It is the power that overcomes principalities.

As I survey the history of race relations in America, I see this truth in play.

My ancestors knew that, in order to secure their freedom, slavery had to bend to the will of God and be destroyed. They knew that the Jim Crow era, despite its oppression, was not more comprehensive in its power than the Resurrection. We introduced Jim and Jane Crow to a Resurrection-empowered hope, and the civil rights movement was born. Similarly, what evidence do we have that today’s racial divisions can be defeated and that our societal sickness is not unto death? Our answer is the same: the empty tomb and the risen Christ.

Instead of looking for more signs, we need to be re-enchanted by the Resurrection. Instead of looking at the problems facing the church and the world through the lens of our Twitter feeds, we need to remember that Christ is risen and rules over all. His power applies to all of our enigmas. Racism and systemic oppression are not more difficult to overcome than death. And our hope for a transformed society comes directly from the risen Lord.

3. The above video I pulled from the site of conservative writer David French, who, at a careful, steady cadence, unpacks the term “systemic racism.” It’s a term that is really worth considering, if its meaning is not already obvious. “Systemic racism” has less to do with one’s personal drama of guilt/bias/word choice (as indicative as those things may be) and more to do with the “principalities” McCaulley mentions above. Who knows? Identifying systemic fault-lines might even open up the possibility of a more universal movement.

Meanwhile, at Unherd, Giles Frasier writes that the above hymn derives impact from the fact that it was written by a man who captained slave ships; to Frasier, “Amazing Grace is such an extraordinarily powerful hymn precisely because it was written by a man with such a shameful past.” He continues that, in opposition to Christian repentance and redemption,

Cancel culture makes us hide in fear. It makes us publicly pretend we are better than we are. It turns us all into liars — and the more we fear the exposure of our failings, the more we point the finger at others in the hope of misdirecting the anger of the crowd.

For related (and much-needed!) humor, here’s a good one from the Onion: “White Ally Willing To Do Whatever It Takes To Make Sure People Won’t Be Mad At Him.”

“It pains me to think there are these people suffering racial oppression out there who might say something challenging or unflattering to my face. I’ll fight with every ounce of my being to avoid that. Just give me a list of people to vote for, I won’t ask any questions, just please, please don’t yell at me.” Novak added that he would be willing to put his life on the line if just one person from a marginalized group uttered, “You’re one of the good ones,” to him.

4. Over at his blog, Alan Jacobs keyed into a similar concept that is, for all the static around it, pretty hard to write about online: that is, the law at work within social movements that are both urgent and important. Such a law speaks particularly loudly on the web. It is also incapable of producing what it demands.

Human beings have overwhelmingly powerful cravings for novelty and unanimity. … We call that “solidarity,” but it’s more like an instinctual bullying. You must attend to the thing I am attending to. I despise both of those tendencies. They’ve turned everyone into attention muggers.

If three months ago you were primarily focused on addressing sexism in the workplace, it seems to me that you ought to be allowed, indeed encouraged, to keep thinking about and working on that now, when everyone else is talking about police brutality. If your passionate concern is the lack of health care in poor communities, here or abroad, I think you should feel free to stick with that, even if it means not joining in protests against police racism. If you’ve turned your farm into a shelter for abused or neglected animals, and caring for them doesn’t leave you time to get on social media with today’s approved hashtags, bless you. You’re doing the Lord’s work.

In a follow-up post, he continues:

How exactly does a narrative coalesce such that “silence is violence” about some forms of suffering but not others, even if the others have greater scope?

… It turns out that the biggest problem with the herd mentality is the hatred generated for anyone who won’t — for any reason — join that herd. There’s no violence in silence about a problem the great majority of the angriest weren’t thinking about in April and won’t be thinking about in August either.

Though Jacobs’ diagnosis swims amidst fairly hot waters, I was also reminded of a less political comment from actress Tracee Ellis Ross. Speaking of art/the creative process, she offers a few words about “unanimity”:

… our culture has gotten so crazy that it’s all about what people think before you even have time to dream and play. Nuance comes because it’s you. It’s not some cookie-cutter thing, some app you downloaded. It’s something you created, which comes out of your soul, which is bouncing up against the life that you had that no one else had. We’re all so busy trying to make ourselves look like everybody else and talk like everybody else. You’re like, “Are there robots around me? What’s happening?”

5. Now, despite my recent diatribe against binging TV, permit me some hypocrisy. The new season of Ramy is worth losing sleep for. It brilliantly depicts the quest to be religious in a secular world, when, in the words of Lady Gaga, “my biggest enemy is me.” As described by Shamira Ibrahim in the Atlantic, Ramy explores the dynamics of religious performance, ritual self-righteousness, and millennial stupor:

Season 2 is anchored in Ramy’s wish to find purpose and direction in his spirituality, but his obsessive need to present a righteous version of himself only sabotages his effort at redemption …

Most Abrahamic religions are peppered with tales of the fallibility of human character: the person you want to be versus the person you are. In Season 2, most of Ramy’s characters are going through this journey; not just in front of God, but in front of their own communities. In trying their hardest to present themselves as the people they want to be, they consistently harm those around them—exposing the worst of who they are in dangerous bursts. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then Ramy offers a look into where the road obsessed with perceptions will lead.

I also appreciated this bit of Inkoo Kang review for the Hollywood Reporter:

… it’s impossible not to be moved by season two’s guiding observation: You don’t have to do very much to be a bad person. In fact, all you have to do is nothing at all.

And if the above doesn’t convince you that, in the 21st century, religion is the new sex, then consider this. The latest issue of the New Yorker features two fantastic writers who have already covered every taboo: now they write of the final frontier, the supernatural. Ottessa Moshfegh is saved by a donut angel, and Miranda July prays during a crisis.

6. Lastly: some timely philosophy. You may already know that in the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa famously denounced slavery. So the argument about our heroes being “men of their times” can seem a little flaccid. Considering the legacy of David Hume, Peter Harrison, at ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal, points out that “Hume’s views on race were explicitly rejected by some of his contemporaries.” So is Hume’s racism just awkward trivia, or does it indicate something integral to his framework and the frameworks of other such thinkers? Harrison argues the latter. Trust me, this one gets juicy.

Commitment to progress, inflected by the racial understandings on display in Hume and others, meant that “inferior races” were either doomed to perpetual inferiority or extinction on account of supposed fixed and unchangeable deficiencies, or were seen as the child-like stages of the fully developed Western European type. Either way, the principle of progress meant that other races would be ranked in accordance with their degree of conformity to European societies that were imagined to epitomise human advancement. While racist attitudes have been endemic in all periods of history, the Enlightenment idea of progress lent them a new respectability, integrating them into secular theories of history and a new “science of man.”

We may imagine that we have moved well beyond these patronising views of other races as imperfect realisations of a Western ideal. But belief in the superiority of our scientific understandings of the world still presents us with challenging and largely unresolved questions about the status of indigenous knowledges, their relation to science, and their place in our institutions of learning.

For Hume, secularity was a gauge of civilisation: the more religious, the more barbarous. Race and religious commitment were dual markers of a primitive condition.

Voltaire was also motivated to stress racial difference in order to counter the powerful biblical story of a single creation of human beings in the image of God. Voltaire held a polygenetic view, according to which the different races did not share a common ancestry. Religion and racial inferiority together represented barriers to social progress and the march of civilisation.

This should prompt us to consider the respective roles of myth and science in offering a guide to life. It is instructive that icons of Enlightenment rationality were rarely at the forefront of movements for practical racial equality. In England, the campaign against slavery was not led by a posse of religiously sceptical philosophers, but by Quakers, Methodists, and Evangelicals. In more recent history, Christian churches that played a central role in the civil rights movement whose leaders were more likely to draw inspiration from the Old Testament prophets than from formal declarations of human rights. Abstract conceptions of human equality seemed less effective in motivating social change than religious convictions grounded in “myths.” Indeed, it is likely that, in historical terms, the former are parasitic on the latter.

I mean, damn.